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CHARLESTON — State officials on Tuesday admitted the color-coding system developed for West Virginia school systems led to decreased testing for COVID-19, prompting the state to “tweak” the system.

After teasing to it Monday, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice announced a fifth color to the color-coded county map that dictates what school looks like.

The new color phase is gold, and it will fall between yellow and orange. Counties with a seven-day average between 10 and 14.9 will go gold and will be permitted to attend face-to-face schooling. Masks will be required at all times and large assemblies are not permitted. Schools will also be asked to limit the movement of groups of students.

As for athletics, counties in gold will only be permitted to play within the county or in other gold counties. Immediate families will only be permitted to attend games in gold, but the state “tweaked” yellow and green to allow grandparents to attend.

If by 5 p.m. Saturday a county is still orange, the state will then look at the county’s positive percentage rate over a seven-day rolling period. If the percentage is below 5%, counties in orange can still attend school.

“This now becomes either/or,” Justice said.

With the changes, now Putnam, Logan, Mingo, Boone and Fayette counties are gold.

“The No. 1 thing for me is this puts more students in front of their teachers, and that’s what is most important for me,” said state superintendent of schools Clayton Burch.

Justice said the “tweaks” to the system were needed because the orange phase was too broad and it wasn’t fair to the counties that were on the edge of yellow.

Dr. Clay Marsh, state coronavirus czar, said they found the color system was actually disincentivizing people to get tested because people are afraid of impacting their county’s color.

“Every time we get a new case, you get a little bit worse on the color-coded map,” Marsh said.

He said he hopes the new color, along with the tool of using the daily percentage rate, will incentivize people to get tested, which will make communities safer.

Justice said the West Virginia National Guard has been instructed to ramp up testing in the state, beginning in the only red county: Monongalia. The governor said he wants to test the people of West Virginia quickly and without any cost to the residents.

“Absolutely please take advantage of the free testing,” Justice said. “It will help give us information and help your county. It will make us safer.”

There were 156 new positive cases of COVID-19 reported Tuesday, for a total of 12,976, and five new deaths: an 87-year-old man from Logan County, a 93-year-old woman from Mason County, a 66-year-old woman from Mercer County, an 88-year-old woman from Kanawha County and a 91-year-old woman from Kanawha County. The deaths bring the total fatalities to 280.

Cases per county are: Barbour (37), Berkeley (890), Boone (182), Braxton (10), Brooke (105), Cabell (665), Calhoun (22), Clay (30), Doddridge (17), Fayette (481), Gilmer (19), Grant (147), Greenbrier (115), Hampshire (96), Hancock (136), Hardy (75), Harrison (322), Jackson (231), Jefferson (409), Kanawha (2,035), Lewis (38), Lincoln (144), Logan (549), Marion (246), Marshall (143), Mason (128), McDowell (79), Mercer (384), Mineral (153), Mingo (304), Monongalia (1,745), Monroe (144), Morgan (46), Nicholas (72), Ohio (334), Pendleton (47), Pleasants (15), Pocahontas (58), Preston (143), Putnam (416), Raleigh (443), Randolph (230), Ritchie (10), Roane (42), Summers (28), Taylor (115), Tucker (15), Tyler (15), Upshur (59), Wayne (323), Webster (7), Wetzel (47), Wirt (9), Wood (339) and Wyoming (82).

The Cabell-Huntington Health Department reported 234 active cases Tuesday.

In Ohio, the Lawrence County Health Department reported eight new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, with patients’ ages ranging from 18 to 85. The county has had a total of 574 cases, with 490 out of isolation and 17 deaths.

Statewide, there had been a total of 139,485 cases as of 2 p.m. Tuesday, with 4,506 deaths related to the virus.

In Kentucky, the Ashland-Boyd County Health Department reported 10 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, for a total of 378. The new cases are a 27-year-old woman, 28-year-old man, 30-year-old man, 32-year-old woman, 57-year-old woman, 59-year-old man, 63-year-old woman, 68-year-old woman, 72-year-old woman and 82-year-old woman, all isolating at home.

Statewide, there were 745 new cases reported, for a total of 58,000. Ninety-five of the newly reported cases were from children ages 18 and younger, the youngest being just 27 days old, according to a release from the Governor’s Office.

There were also nine new deaths reported, for a total of 1,074. At least 10,962 Kentuckians have recovered from the virus, the release said.

More than 34,000 new cases of COVID-19 were reported across the U.S. on Tuesday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for a total of 6,537,627. There have been 194,092 deaths related to the virus.

Follow reporter Taylor Stuck on Twitter and Facebook @TaylorStuckHD.

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